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Nuclear solution tops agenda in Iran talks

(Keystone)

Switzerland has a "major role" to play in the resolution of nuclear issues with Iran, a leading Iranian official has said.

Iranian parliament president Ali Larijani made the comments during a working lunch with Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey at a parliamentarians' conference in Geneva on Tuesday.

Switzerland is actively engaged in negotiations on the issue, Larijani confirmed. "We touched on different ideas, different actions," he said, adding that the door to dialogue on the issue remained open with Iran.

Iran has denied that its atomic programme is for military ends.

The pair also talked about energy supplies, Israel and a future referendum to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland.

A foreign ministry spokesman said Calmy-Rey had taken the opportunity to inform Larijani about the initiative by a rightwing coalition to ban minarets, which was later opposed by cabinet. She also explained how the Swiss democratic system works.

Larijani later said both the Iranian and Swiss human rights situations had been discussed, as Iran had "some issues of concern" about Switzerland.

Israel

Calmy-Rey took the opportunity to discuss relations between Iran and Israel. Iran has openly questioned the truth of the Holocaust and has in the past called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

The Swiss foreign minister made it clear that Iranian declarations about the right of Israel to exist were unacceptable to Switzerland.

Larijani also described a controversial gas pipeline deal signed earlier this year as a project of "great strategic value that should reinforce the security of energy supplies to Switzerland".

The contract between Swiss company EGL and Iran's state-owned National Iranian Gas Export Company provoked strong criticism from the United States and Israel and unleashed stinging attacks from Jewish groups.

The deal was signed in Tehran in the presence of Calmy-Rey on March 17. The minister has always defended the energy deal, arguing that it breached neither UN nor US sanctions.

The Tehran meeting also sparked a separate controversy about women's rights in Iran. Some politicians and commentators in Switzerland raised concerns about Calmy-Rey wearing a headscarf in her televised meeting with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

swissinfo with agencies

Gas deal with Iran

The deal with National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC) and EGL covers the delivery to Europe through a pipeline of 5.5 billion cubic metres of gas per year by 2012. The contract runs over 25 years, according to EGL, which declined to reveal the worth of the contract.

Calmy-Rey said it was Switzerland's strategy to diversify its sources of energy supplies. "We decrease our dependence, and the dependence of Europe, on Russian gas," she said.

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